Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Drones that perch like birds could go on much longer flights

A simple gripping mechanism allows unmanned aerial vehicles to save energy by resting on ledges and poles.
March 13, 2019
YALE UNIVERSITY/HONG KONG UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY/RPL, KTH ROYAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY/OREBRO UNIVERSITY/UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONGYale university/Hong Kong University of Science and Technology/RPL, KTH Royal Institute of Technology/Orebro University/University of Hong Kong

It’s a bird! It’s a drone! Well, um, actually it’s a drone that perches like a bird.

Just as a bat might cling to a wall or a bird perch on a branch to rest, drones can also take an energy-saving break by grasping onto something.

“Perching and resting can provide lower power consumption, better stability, and larger view ranges in many cases,” says Yale University’s Kaiyu Hang, lead author of a paper published in Science Robotics today. He says this strategy would be very useful for so-called perch-and-stare applications, where drones sit up high and make long-term observations.

Drone perching has been explored before, but it has often required complicated maneuvering. The new drone has a gripper that lets it grab onto anything smaller than its opening width, like branches, signs, or lights. The team outfitted the drone with three controllable fingers tipped with “contact modules” (attachments that serve as the connecting point to objects) that let it mimic the perching styles of different animals, such as bats or birds of prey.

Original image: Yale university/Hong Kong University of Science and Technology/RPL, KTH Royal Institute of Technology/Orebro University/University of Hong Kong

For example, by hooking one of its sides onto an edge, the drone can switch off two propellers, using about 45% less energy. It can also grasp a rod to hang upside down like a bat, allowing all the rotors to be shut off. Or it can even rest on a stick, which—although the propellers would need to stay on—uses about 69% less energy than hovering.

Giving drones grip can also enable greater lifting strength and safer interactions with humans. “Once an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is perched, it will be able to lift dramatically larger loads without requiring any power from the rotors,” says Hang.

Next up for the team is equipping these drones for real-life conditions, like weather outdoors. If these drones can consistently get their footing, they could be in for some marathon flights ahead. With a few breaks thrown in, of course.

Original image: Yale university/Hong Kong University of Science and Technology/RPL, KTH Royal Institute of Technology/Orebro University/University of Hong Kong

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.